CONGO

Armed raiders carry out coup attempt live on TV talk show in Congo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 9:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 9:35pm
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Congolese television viewers watched stunned as the host of a morning talk show was cut off in mid-sentence by armed intruders who stormed the studio and appeared to be staging a coup.

Protesters wielding machetes and automatic weapons attacked the state broadcaster on Monday. They also attacked the airport and main military base in Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before being repelled by the army, officials said.

The surprise assault at the heart of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest and most unwieldy state highlighted the fragility of President Joseph Kabila's central government. The assailants declared themselves loyal to a Christian evangelical prophet.

Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, said about 40 were killed in the exchange of fire on Monday morning, including 16 at the military base, 16 at the airport and eight at the television station. Another six were captured, he added. "These are terrorists - you can't call them anything else," Mende said.

The first most residents knew of the attack was during a programme on Radio Television Nationale Congolaise, the state broadcaster. The talk show hosts were speaking when attackers with knives burst in.

Footage of the incident shows a young male and young female presenter sitting at a table looking alarmed while a man in a blue T-shirt stands behind them.

Before transmission was shut down, two gunmen appeared on camera to deliver a political message against Kabila. "Gideon Mukungubila has come to free you from the slavery of the Rwandan," it said. A voice off camera could be heard to say in the Lingala language: "Kabila, it's finished for him from today."

Gideon is the nickname used for Paul Joseph Mukungubila by his followers. He ran unsuccessfully for the presidency against Kabila in 2006.

Kabila, derided by opponents as being "Rwandan", took office in 2001 after the assassination of his father, the warlord Laurent Kabila, who seized power in a coup with Rwandan backing.

Several journalists were held hostage at the television station. One employee described scenes of confusion and terror.

He said: "There were about 30 armed men who burst into the headquarters of the television station. They started firing and we hid."